June 2024 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 June 2024
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Expected Council Action   

In June, the Council is expected to convene a briefing on the Secretary-General’s biannual report on the implementation of resolution 2231 of 20 July 2015, which endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear programme.  

The Council will also receive reports from its 2231 facilitator, Ambassador Vanessa Frazier (Malta), and the Joint Commission, which was established to oversee the implementation of the JCPOA and comprises the current parties to the agreement: China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, and Iran. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, Frazier, and a representative of the EU in its capacity as coordinator of the Joint Commission are expected to brief the Council.   

Background and Key Recent Developments   

Efforts to revive the JCPOA remain frozen following a breakdown in negotiations in 2022 and subsequent political developments that have led to a further deterioration in relations between the parties. In May 2018, then-US President Donald Trump announced that the US, which was originally a signatory to the JCPOA, was withdrawing from the agreement and went on to impose unilateral sanctions on Iran. Although Iran formally remained in the JCPOA, it took steps that directly contravene its terms, including enriching uranium to levels beyond the JCPOA-mandated limits and removing cameras and monitoring equipment required by the agreement. Following the election of current US President Joseph Biden, the US, Iran, and other parties to the JCPOA began talks in April 2021 in Vienna to revive the agreement.    

Those discussions progressed until August 2022, when the EU circulated what it described as a “final” draft agreement. Iran reportedly insisted as a condition for accepting the deal that the IAEA close its investigation into traces of enriched uranium it had discovered at three undeclared sites in Iran in 2019. The US and European parties to the JCPOA objected to this demand, which they viewed as a separate issue related to Iran’s obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the country’s NPT Safeguards Agreement, which every non-nuclear NPT state party is required to conclude with the IAEA to ensure that its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes. In a 17 November 2022 resolution, the IAEA Board of Governors censured Iran and directed it to comply with the IAEA’s investigation. In response, Iran announced on 22 November 2022 that it had started enriching uranium to 60 percent purity at its Fordow nuclear facility, approaching the roughly 90 percent level required to produce a nuclear weapon and well above the 3.67 percent limit imposed by the JCPOA.   

With negotiations to revive the JCPOA stalled, Iran began increasing its production of highly enriched uranium. By the end of 2023, Iran had reportedly amassed enough 60-percent enriched uranium to produce three nuclear weapons if further enriched to weapons-grade, according to the IAEA’s technical thresholds. Since then, the country has slightly reduced its stockpile of 60-percent enriched uranium by diluting it to a lower purity level: the IAEA’s latest quarterly verification and monitoring report, dated 26 February, estimated that Iran held a total of 121.5 kilograms of 60-percent enriched uranium, a reduction of 6.8 kilograms from the agency’s previous report, and a total of 712.2 kilograms of 20-percent enriched uranium, an increase of 145.1 kilograms from the last report. Overall, Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium had increased by approximately 30 percent. According to a 4 March technical analysis of the IAEA’s findings by the non-partisan Institute for Science and International Security, Iran’s “breakout capacity”—the amount of time that it would take to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon—was seven days, notably lower than the 12-day breakout time that the institute estimated a year ago. 

Cooperation between the IAEA and Iranian authorities has been strained since Iran began breaching the terms of the JCPOA. After the IAEA’s February 2023 verification and monitoring report said that the agency had detected traces of uranium enriched to 83.7 percent at Iran’s Fordow facility—which Iran claimed was accidental—the IAEA and the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran issued a joint statement on 4 March 2023 permitting the IAEA to “implement further appropriate verification and monitoring activities”, including the installation of surveillance cameras and enrichment-monitoring devices at certain nuclear facilities. However, the agency’s latest quarterly report on the implementation of Iran’s NPT Safeguards Agreement, also dated 26 February, said that while “limited progress” was made in implementing the commitments set out in the joint statement during the March-June 2023 reporting period, “no further progress” had been made since then. The report said that IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi was “seriously concerned” that Iran had “unilaterally stopped implementing” the joint statement and that he questioned “Iran’s continued commitment to its implementation”.  

In parallel to this dispute, Grossi announced in a September 2023 statement that Iran had withdrawn the designation of several IAEA inspectors assigned to conduct verification activities in Iran under the NPT Safeguards Agreement. Grossi said that although this measure was formally permitted by the agreement, Iran had exercised it “in a manner that affects in a direct and severe way the ability of the IAEA to conduct effectively its inspections” in the country. The IAEA’s latest safeguards report said that Grossi continued to “strongly condemn” Iran’s withdrawal of the designations, which he regarded as “not only unprecedented but unambiguously contrary to the cooperation that is required and expected” to effectively implement Iran’s Safeguards Agreement as well as being “in contradiction” with the 4 March 2023 joint statement.  

Attempting to resolve these differences, Grossi visited Tehran in early May for high-level meetings with Iranian officials. Following a 6 May meeting with Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Grossi said in a post on X (formerly Twitter) that he had proposed “a set of concrete practical measures for the revitalization of the 4 March 2023 Joint Statement with [the] aim of restoring [the] process of confidence building and increasing transparency”. In a 7 May press conference upon his return to Vienna, Grossi did not elaborate on his proposals but said that he expected to see “concrete results soon”. According to media reports, the IAEA’s forthcoming quarterly reports—which will be published in June—describe a continued impasse on these issues and document a new increase in Iran’s stockpile of 60-percent enriched uranium. 

While JCPOA negotiations remain dormant, continued fall-out from the Israel-Hamas war has sharply raised geopolitical tensions. On 1 April, Israel launched an airstrike against the Iranian consulate in Damascus, in which several senior commanders of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—which Israel and its allies accuse of supporting Hamas’ war effort—were killed. On 13 April, Iran retaliated with a large-scale airborne attack on Israel—the first time that Iran has directly targeted Israeli territory. Media reported that the Nevatim air force base in Israel’s southern Negev desert suffered minor damage but remained operational, while 12 people in southern Israel received hospital treatment, including one seven-year-old girl for serious injuries caused by shrapnel. The Security Council convened a 14 April emergency meeting to discuss the Iranian attack. On 19 April, Israel launched a retaliatory missile strike that destroyed an air defence radar facility near the city of Isfahan. 

The heightened tensions appear to have further weakened prospects for reviving the JCPOA. In a joint statement at the most recent meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors in March, France, Germany, and the UK—known within the JCPOA Joint Commission as the E3—said that in light of “increasing doubts about the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme” the countries “stand ready to use all diplomatic levers available” to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. More recently, in 30 April remarks to the UK House of Commons, Deputy Foreign Secretary Andrew Mitchell said that the UK and its allies are prepared to use “all options” at their disposal to address concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme, including “triggering the UN snapback and ending the JCPOA if necessary”. The snapback mechanism is a provision in resolution 2231 that allows any party to the agreement to reinstate the UN sanctions against Iran that were in place prior to the JCPOA. 

On 20 May, a helicopter transporting Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Amir-Abdollahian, and several other government officials crashed near the Azerbaijan border, killing all on board. In line with the Iranian constitution, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei named First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber interim head of government and charged him with organising presidential elections within 50 days. Those elections are currently scheduled for 28 June. 

Human Rights-Related Developments  

On 2 February, the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran submitted its report (A/HRC/55/67) to the Human Rights Council’s (HRC) 55th session, outlining its findings concerning the protests in Iran that began on 16 September 2022 and spread across the country in the context of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement. The protests were triggered by the death in custody of Jina Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian-Kurdish woman who was arrested by the country’s morality police for “improper” wearing of the hijab in Tehran. 

The mission found that serious human rights violations had been committed by the Iranian authorities in the context of the protests. It also established that many of these violations amounted to crimes against humanity, including murder, imprisonment, torture, sexual violence, persecution, enforced disappearance, and other inhumane acts against women, girls, and others expressing support for human rights. 

On 4 April, during its 55th session, the HRC adopted a resolution (A/HRC/RES/55/19) extending for an additional year the mandates of the fact-finding mission and the special rapporteur on human rights in Iran. The resolution was adopted with 24 votes in favour, eight against, and 15 abstentions. Council members France, Japan, and the US voted in favour of the resolution, whereas China voted against. 

Key Issues and Options   

As the prospects for a revival of the JCPOA grow increasingly remote, the key issue for the Security Council is how to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Analysts have suggested that Iran’s steps since the US withdrawal from the agreement, including its uranium enrichment activities, are likely to make a return to the original terms of the agreement and full compliance with those terms difficult, particularly given the institutional knowledge acquired by Iran’s nuclear programme and the IAEA’s diminished monitoring capabilities, which prevent it from establishing a new baseline against which to measure compliance with a future agreement. The Iranian government’s apparent support for Hamas and the Russian war effort in Ukraine have also made reviving the JCPOA politically difficult—if not impossible—for Western countries.   

Given Iran’s non-compliance with the JCPOA, Council members could initiate the snapback mechanism in resolution 2231 if they decide the agreement is no longer viable. The P3 countries—France, the UK, and the US—have typically maintained that their “red line” for initiating the snapback is the detection of weapons-grade uranium in Iran, but that calculus could possibly change if geopolitical tensions continue to rise.    

The P3 and like-minded countries may choose, as they have in the past, to adopt a resolution censuring Iran at the next meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors, scheduled for 3 to 7 June. Since Iran ceased to comply with the JCPOA, the board has adopted three such resolutions, most recently in November 2022. According to media reports, the JCPOA’s E3 countries have prepared a draft resolution that they may present at the upcoming IAEA meeting.  

Council Dynamics   

A revival of the JCPOA has grown increasingly unlikely, given current geopolitical dynamics.    

The P3 and other Western countries remain concerned about Iranian activities that contravene the JCPOA and the country’s lack of cooperation with the IAEA. At the Council’s June briefing, some Council members may call on Iran to re-certify the agency’s inspectors and to fully implement the March 2023 joint statement on verification and monitoring measures. The US and European members might reiterate allegations that Iran has supplied uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) to Russia for use in Ukraine and express concern at what they view as Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the region, including its support for Hamas in Gaza and proxy militias in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.   

China and Russia are more supportive of Iran. Both countries have previously blamed the US for the collapse of the JCPOA, criticising it for withdrawing from the deal and imposing unilateral sanctions on the Iranian regime. In April, China, Iran, and Russia held high-level trilateral security talks in Saint Petersburg, during which Iran’s representative, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Akbar Ahmadian, reportedly told Iranian media that his mission was to promote “multilateralism” and to fight “Western hegemony and monopoly over global security spheres”. 

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Security Council Resolution
20 JULY 2015S/RES/2231 This was a resolution that endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran.
Secretary-General’s Report
15 DECEMBER 2023S/2023/975 This was the Secretary-General’s biannual report on the implementation of resolution 2231.

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